OKAEE Honors Finkenbinder for Lifetime Achievement

On February 13, SNU Professor of Biology Dr. Leo Finkenbinder was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Association for Environmental Education (OKAEE) during the Environmental Education Expo at OSU.

The OKAEE Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to a working Oklahoma environmental educator who has exhibited a lifetime of personal and professional commitment to environmental education exemplary of the values and mission of OKAEE. Individuals are nominated on the basis of recommendation to the OKAEE Selection Committee.

The Oklahoma Association for Environmental Education (OKAEE) exists to support Oklahoma educators and to promote environmental literacy through communication, resource sharing, skill building, and recognition of excellence.

Finkenbinder began his career as a teacher in 1963 at Keyes High School. In 1968, Finkenbinder became professor of biology at Southern Nazarene University where he is currently serving in his last semester before retiring in May. In addition to biology, Finkenbinder has taught a diverse mix of courses such as zoology, field ecology, tropical ecology, astrobiology, tropical research and tropical biology.

“His actions without a doubt show that he has the conscience to care, the courage to act and the character to do what is right,” said Teresa Randall, Biotechnology/Bioinformatics Grant Coordinator and adjunct biology professor at Oklahoma City Community College.

Randall was a recipient of that very care during her years of teaching at Putnam City West High School as Finkenbinder provided her with many valuable resources, namely SNU ecology students. On several occasions, his students volunteered their time and expertise to assist Randall’s high school students with their field tests. Years later, Randall had the opportunity of traveling with her students to the rainforests of Costa Rica where they accompanied Finkenbinder and his SNU college students in field research at SNU’s Quetzal Education Research Center (QERC).

“Through his passion for the environment, I saw the inspiration and motivation that Leo passes on to his students. He truly is the kind of teacher that I one day aspire to become. In my fourteen years as an educator, I’ve not met a man of his caliber. Leo has the innate ability to talk to students, or adults for that matter, as if they are the only person in the room,” said Randall.

On a professional level, Finkenbinder is highly regarded for his contributions to field of environmental science. Finkenbinder has presented “sustainability” seminars to organizations such as Amoco Oil Corp., the University of Oklahoma, the University of Leon (Nicaragua), Westmont College (California), the Christian Environmental Association (Belize), and the Environmental Health and Safety Professionals. In addition to his extensive involvement in the Oklahoma City community, Finkenbinder has consulted with mycologists from New York Botanical Gardens and the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, served as an advisory council member at the AuSable Environmental Institute (Michigan), and developed the Tropical Science Track for the Latin American Studies Program in San Jose, Costa Rica through the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). Finkenbinder has held memberships with a number of associations including the Oklahoma Academy of Science, the Association of Tropical Biology, the Organization of Tropical Studies, National Mortar Board, Sigma Pi Sigma (National Physics Honor Society), and the National Science Teachers Association.

Among Finkenbinder’s most notable accomplishments was the establishment of the Quetzal Education Research Center (QERC) in San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica. Finkenbinder helped to spearhead the building project of a two-story biological research station in Costa Rica’s rural valley, complete with library, classrooms, lab and lodgings for 35 visitors. Today, students and scientists from around the world visit the QERC for study and research.

Years earlier, Finkenbinder assisted with the “Rio Savegre Watershed” project in Costa Rica, a sustainability project with many partners, including the United Nations, the governments of Spain and Costa Rica and Southern Nazarene University (QERC). In an effort to repair the cloud forest and save the disappearing Resplendent Quetzal bird, Finkenbinder developed a sustainable model of ecology merging sound biological principles with the necessity of producing income for indigenous people. Nineteen years later, the Quetzals have returned and the forest is recovering, providing students and scientists with a rich landscape for study where research is focused on 360 species, eight new to science in the past four years.

“Many like to talk about this, but Leo Finkenbinder has done it and, better yet, taught others how to do it. In doing so, he has brought honor to his profession and the state of Oklahoma,” said Ted Bader, M.D., former student and head of the Alumni Advisory Board for the QERC project.

For further information, contact the SNU Department of Biology at 405.491.6383.